There has been a sharp drop in India's tea exports — around 24 per cent — in the first four months of 2011, official statistics show. Volume-wise, exports were 15.8 million kg lower between January and April with earnings too dropping by Rs.139 crore although prices were higher.

Industry sources said that payment settlement problems with Iran and the continued turmoil in West Asia were among the major factors that precipitated the drop in exports which stood at 51 million kg in the four months under review as compared to 66.8 million kg in the same period in 2010.

Iran imported 13.43 million kg of Indian tea in 2010, buying premium teas at an average price of Rs.165 a kg with a foreign exchange earning of Rs.221 crore. The erosion of the markets in countries like Egypt and Libya too was hurting tea exports since these are growth markets. The drop was sharper for South India which exports nearly all its produce as compared to North India.

The Indian setback came at a time when two other major tea exporting nations, Sri Lanka and China made advances in the international arena. Kenya also suffered a drop in exports although it was not as sharp.

It may be mentioned that in 2011, India's exports stood at 193.3 million kg valued at Rs.2,595 crore compared to 197.9 million kg of exports in 2010 valued at Rs.2,786 crore.

Tea prices however were on the boil in the first four months in world auction centres.

Tea production in India, the world's largest producer of black tea, was lower in Assam which accounts for 50 per cent of the country's output. Darjeeling, which recorded a dismal crop in 2010 has begun showing signs of recovery with a half million kg rise. Dooars and Terai in West Bengal too recorded upward trends in their output. In South India, aside from Kerala, the two other tea producing states — Tamil Nadu and Karnataka registered decline in output. Total Indian output stood at 163.1 million kg against 162.3 million kg in the same period under reference.

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